NFL Execs’ “Due Process” Position Shows League Still Doesn’t Get It

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An article in today’s edition of USA Today describes the reaction of several NFL teams to players that have been recently arrested or convicted of various criminal charges.

In addressing the Adrian Peterson child abuse indictment, Minnesota Vikings owners issued the following statement: “We take very seriously any matter that involves the welfare of a child, at this time, however, we believe this is a matter of due process and we should allow the legal system to proceed.”

Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, issued a similar statement on the arrest of lineman Ray McDonald for criminal domestic violence:

“I’m not inserting myself into the process, one way or the other. I think that’s the right thing to do, respect the legal process, respect the due process.”

The first five years of my time practicing law was as a prosecutor in state court. The last five years I have been on the other side of courtroom as a criminal defense lawyer. I am also a football fan and what has transpired with the NFL in the last few weeks is outrageous. While the actions of Ray Rice are appalling, what I find equally outrageous is the NFL’s lack of diligence in investigating the matter when they first became aware of it.

Cases involving criminal domestic violence vary on a wide scale. In the most egregious cases, you have the actual physical assault of a spouse or girlfriend. On the other end of the spectrum are cases involving a heated argument between two people that involve no physical altercation at all, but may involve verbal threats. In South Carolina, the charge for either situation is Criminal Domestic Violence.

The facts of these cases are documented by law enforcement. In almost every case, there is a statement from the victim describing what happened. When the case involves just threats, it becomes a “he said, she said” situation which is very difficult to prove in front of a jury. In situations involving a physical assault, the police look for and document corroborating evidence of injuries that may support the victim’s statement.

The bottom line is, these cases are not difficult to evaluate for a prosecutor or criminal defense attorney. It is usually pretty clear what happened once all the information is gathered.

In the Ray Rice situation, it is absolutely ridiculous to accept the NFL’s position that they were not aware of the elevator video that was released last week. Anyone with any experience in the criminal justice system would immediately recognize the fact that there had to be a video of what occurred in the casino elevator. Considering the power and influence the NFL carries, it is also hard to believe that they could not obtain the video from law enforcement or the casino.

The other cases of NFL players accused or convicted of criminal domestic violence are no exception. The evidence is out there and available. The NFL and individual teams just need a lawyer with some degree of competence and experience to evaluate the facts in each case and present those facts to the owner or commissioner for an appropriate resolution.

The Adrian Peterson child abuse case is no exception. The Vikings are a multi-million dollar organization. They should be able to find a lawyer that can give them a fairly accurate prediction on whether Peterson will be found guilty or not-guilty of the charges he faces. The evidence is available (we have all seen the photos). The Vikings just need to take a position on whether their star player is guilty or not-guilty and stick with it. No matter what happens during the course of “due process”, they still have the authority to allow him to play regardless of the outcome.

So far the NFL has shown over the last few weeks that they are either inept in evaluating these situations or have no backbone in deciding what should be done with the players. Most likely it is a combination of the two. Either way, it is a situation that is unacceptable and should be corrected immediately to avoid further damage to the credibility of the league.

By: Alex Stalvey

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